Seato

on the World Today

THE Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, SEATO, was conceived two years ago as a response to the Communist victories in Indochina, which culminated then in the Battle of Dienbienphu and the Geneva Conference. A formative SEATO meeting was held at Manila in the summer of 1954, soon after these developments, but the organization was not born until February, 1955, when ratifications were exchanged by the members at a meeting at Bangkok. Officially, therefore, SEATO is about a year and a half old, and is still pretty formless.

One reason for this is a difference in aims between the member nations, which include Australia, France, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The U.S., which can be called SEATO’s prime mover, joined almost purely to check the spread of Communism in Southeast Asia, a task our leaders felt could no longer be done through the French. We looked on SEATO as an anti-Communist defense alliance complementary to NATO in Europe and MEDO in the Middle East.

The leaders of the Philippines — fervid antiComnunists — shared our views more or less, as did those of Australia and New Zealand. The leaders of Thailand, the country next to Indochina in the Red line of march, were seeking a bulwark against Communism and had good reason to join SEATO; but some observers of SEATO believe they have been softened by the Chinese “enticement” talk begun at the Bandung Conference in April of last year. The British are America’s loyal allies, of course, in SEATO as in other things; but there is no dodging the fact that they have a more friendly policy toward China than we have, and this adds further ambiguity to the organization.

, Since 1954 the French have withdrawn from North Vietnam, the region held by Ho Chi-minh’s Red-oriented Vietminh, but they are anxious to remain on good terms with Ho and continue their business dealings in his territory. Meanwhile they disagree often with the anti-Communist government of South Vietnam, and with the American advisers who are influential there. Their power is receding fast from Southeast Asia, and they have a strong Communist element at home that is naturally opposed to SEATO. In view of these things their support of SEATO cannot be wholehearted, and some of the other members have expressed puzzlement that they are in it at all.

Pakistan, anti-Communist keystone?

The Pakistanis, finally, seem to have no direct interest in Southeast Asia; they apparently joined SEATO to prove their solidarity with the antiCommunist West, and the West accepted them to show that SEATO has a strong Asian (if not Southeast Asian) flavor. Thought must be given to Sout h Asia’s geography to understand anti-Communist alliances there and Pakistan’s relation to them.

Below South Asia lies the Indian Ocean, and the land comes down into it in three main peninsulas, separated from one another by two bays. There is the Arabian Peninsula on the west, then the Arabian Sea, the Indian Peninsula, the Bay of Bengal, and finally Southeast Asia, a complex region including Indochina, Thailand, and Malaya, plus the related island systems of Indonesia and Borneo, and the Philippines.

Pakistan comprises two pieces of territory at the heads of the two bays — East Pakistan above the Bay of Bengal, and West Pakistan above the Arabian Sea (the two being separated by the middle downshoot, India). West Pakistan is the nation’s dominant half, and it belongs in almost every way to Southwest, rather than Southeast, Asia— to the Middle East or Muslim world, that is. Hence it properly falls within MEDO, the Middle East Defense Organization, rather than SEATO, and it is in fact a member of the former body, along with Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.

Pakistan is the only Asian country in both MEDO and SEATO, and thinks of itself as a keystone for the anti-Communist arch that the two organizations seek to build over the Indian Ocean. This dream may be a reality someday, but at present it is obscured by the oddity of Pakistan’s SEATO link. The Pakistanis seem uninterested in SEATO’s proper issues. For one thing, they have fine relations with Red China. For another, the two chief benefits that they have sought from SEATO — declarations supporting their cases in Kashmir and on the Afghan frontier — have almost nothing to do with Southeast Asia geographically.

The work so far done by SEATO as an organization has not been calculated to give it much substance either. Unlike NATO, SEATO has no troops under its command — its members are thought too disparate and farflung for this. It is supposed to foster economic and cultural exchanges in its area, and to combat subversion there, but actually it has done almost nothing along these lines. By and large such work has still been managed bilaterally, between pairs of member nations, with SEATO merely giving its blessing.

The Karachi Conference

Secretary Dulles led the Karachi session off with a long discourse on Communist policy, climaxed by a warning that the current Red peace maneuvers are insincere and are aimed mainly at undermining SEATO and the other collective-security agreements. After Dulles had finished, the other delegates spoke, some of them bringing up questions of more specifically regional importance. The outstanding issue, it developed, was the Pakistanis’ demand that SEATO support them in their disputes over Kashmir and “Pakhtoonistan.” The Kashmir question, a territorial one between Pakistan and India, is before the UN, which has ordered a plebiscite to settle it, but India has so far blocked this. Pakistan asked SEATO to urge that the UN decision be carried out.

The Pakhtoon question is between Pakistan and the separatist tribesmen, backed by their Afghan neighbors, in West Pakistan’s northern hills, which might be called the edge of Cent ral Asia. In t his case Pakistan asked that SEATO recognize the disputed area as her territory. Neither question had borne much on Communism originally. But Bulganin and Khrushchev, in their South Asian tour, had blatantly taken the antiPakistan side on both issues, and the Pakistanis pointed to this in asking SEATO to back them. The seven other nations obliged fully, without delay.

Several Southeast Asian issues were discussed at Karachi as well. It was urged that South Vietnam should agree to holding country-wide elections soon, or should so act that the blame for not holding them would fall on Ho Chi-minh’s North Vietnam. The British were praised, by New Zealand and Australia, for the dispatch with which they had recently granted freedom to Malaya. Prince Wan explained that fears about Thai neutralism were greatly exaggerated, He also suggested that an economic adviser be appointed to SEATO.

Ilcfcnse. not aggression

More than one member wished to emphasize SEATO’s defensive rather than offensive—nature, and to play up its economic and cultural aspects. Richard Casey of Australia suggested that SEATO think about the question of what he called “gray" or “ twilight “ aid for the poorer members — aid that was not strictly military, but that would help build up t he members’ military establishments. 1 le mentioned cloth for uniforms as an example, and he committed Australia to $2 million worth of such aid.

In the more secret military discussions at Karachi, Dulles was understood to have talked about a strategic striking force, as well as “forces in being" in the various countries. The impression given was that SEATO’s main reliance would si ill be on massive American retaliatory power, but that the Asian members would also get further help from America in building up their ground forces as a safeguard against subversion or sudden attack.

Even after the Karachi meeting, SEATO had little tangible to show for itself. A budget was passed for the next year of only $300,000. which provided for an economist, a publicity man, and some clerical help (Thailand gave a building in Bangkok to house this staff). A center for research on subversion was also agreed on, bul it is clear that SEATO will not soon become a big organization in the antisubversive or military line, or any other. At the most it will continue to be a clearinghouse.

At least one Asian delegate confessed, in private, to restrained impatience with these results, and said he would really be depressed by them except that his country already had a bilateral defense agreement with the U.S. On the other hand some American officials were pleased with the way things had gone at Karachi. They felt that the idea of collective security was taking hold — that Asians were seeing it as the only way to keep from being swallowed up, one after the other, by Communism, and were acting accordingly. One of our officials said he thought all the non-Communist countries in Hast and Southeast Asia would be in SEATO eventually; and at Karachi there was speculation that certain countries might join fairly soon Malaya, for instance.

It was also predicted that South Vietnam might join. Not having signed the Geneva Agreement, the South Vietnam government is free to join alliances — as Laos and Cambodia, two other successor states of French Indochina, are not. Yet even in Laos SEATO was expected to be active: subversive trouble was foreeast there in the near future, and if it came SEATO members would probably help in trying to put it down. Some leaders felt that the organization might soon play a strong role.

Power vacuum in Asia

There has been a power vacuum in Asia since the British Empire began withdrawing a decade ago. This has been partly filled by the Communists, who have taken over China and Tibet, for instance. Mainly they have succeeded in inland countries or in countries with large hinterlands, where the essential struggle could be decided far from ihe eoasls. As their movement has spread to the more seaboard countries, however, it has met with resistance, partly because it has come up against Western amphibious power, and partly because the peoples near the coast are more westernized and cosmopolitan in their outlook — believing in things like free irade and mixed social customs, and not sympathizing much with the rigid nationalism that seems to go with Communism in Asia. If this struggle grows sharper, some coordinated power max well be needed to stand for the anli-communist side in it. Perhaps SEATO will fill this role.

SKATO has been attacked as an aggressive body by both the Communists and the Indians, and its ulnerability to this was recognized at Karachi. Several leaders — Americans and others—remarked in private that Asians would have to be convinced of SEATO’s peaceful intent before the organization could really gain headway. A conflict is plainly discernible between this objective and America’s China policy, which — as it denies the permanence of the Mao regime and is associated, willynilly, with Chiang Kai-shek’s reinvasion talk — strikes much of Asia as bellicose. One might guess, therefore, that a further harmonization of American policy is needed before SEATO can really broaden its appeal.

Prince Wan, the Thai Foreign Minister, who is well attuned to the mood of other Asians — the Burmese, for example — thinks it important that the socially constructive aspects of SEATO, as distinct from the military, be played up. American leaders see Communism mainly as an expression of the power urge — as a fairly abstract expanding force that can best be met by an abstract counterforce, under the name of collective security. Except for the minority led by Chiang and Syngman Rhee, Asians see Communism as a revolutionary force as well, seeking to bring needed changes. Foresight ed Asians who are interested in SEATO wish it to be on the right side of this desire for change.

India resistance

India’s attacks on SEATO and MEDO are phrased as denunciations of blocs as such. At first glance this seems strange because the Indians are diligent bloc-builders themselves, and furthermore do not speak out against the massive bloc-building of the Reds. The truth seems to be that, like other countries, India has selfish national interests, and that SEATO and MEDO can be regarded as threats to these. After the British withdrawal India had hopes of dominating South Asia. She tried to dominate weaker countries near her, like Burma and Pakistan, and she has tried in various ways to construct an Indian Ocean bloc.

Some Indians claim that SEATO and MEDO infringe on their country’s sovereignty by bringing foreign power near to her coasts. This sounds farfetched, but Americans who would deride India’s views might think of our own at the time of the Monroe Doctrine. The two cases are not dissimilar. Even so, America seems unlikely to stop pushing SEATO and MEDO because of Indian feelings.